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Mini-Review: iBasso T3 portable amp

post #1 of 154
Thread Starter 
There have been a few people asking about the iBasso T3, which I bought at the same time as my iBasso D4. I gave it 250 hours of un-monitored burn-in, but it sounded fine right out of the box. Most of the time it is used with my 5G Nano or my 5.5G iMod, via Piccolino wire LOD that stevenkelby made for me.

The T3 amp is resolving enough that I can hear the difference when I switch from the Piccolino LODto my cheaper Punnisher LOD. In the end I think the T3 is better than my old T4, but the iBasso D4 is still better than the T3. I don't think the T3 is as transparent and open sounding as the D4, but it is definitely performing well above my expectations for such a tiny amp.

The T4 amp has several hundred hours on it, and is a little darker and mellow. I have reported before that I found the T4 to be good with bright IEM when trying to pair them with a brighter sounding Nano or Touch, but not really offering sound quality that much better than an iPod. As a matter of fact, my iPhone 3G and 3GS headphone out sounds more detailed and balanced than the T4. Yet the T4 is not a bad amp at all, it's just not as good as the iPhone 3G/3GS which I think is the best sounding iPod ever made. The T4 bass boost was good for some bass-lite phones, but it's a pretty warm amp with strong bass even without the boost turned on (very mild bump, maybe 3-4 dB to my ears).

So, the T3 adds a bit more clarity and detail over the T4. The frequency response seems more balanced with the T3 vs the T4 because of this, yet it's still a warm and punchy enough amp that I don't miss trading the bass boost in trade for the 4 gain settings (instead of 2). It has more power than my iPods, and it offers improvements via LOD that make it worth using with full size cans vs using the headphone out. And, the sound is good enough that it is still an upgrade over the iPod headphone out for many IEM.

If you don't need the DAC, and you will be using it totally with an iPod portable where size is important, then the T3 makes more sense than the D2+ or D4. Right now I am listening to my 5G Nano > piccolino LOD > T3 > UE 11Pro and it sounds better than the Nano headphone out. I normally don't like the UE 11Pro via the Nano or iPhone 3GS headphone out, and the T3 sounds better with them. The T4 seems a little darker than I like with the UE 11Pro.

Somehow, the T3 is still a great match with my ES3X and JH 13Pro too. And despite it's controlling the bass on the UE 11Pro better than my Nano or iPhone do, the T3 is NEVER bass-lite with my other IEM. There is very strong bass with my ES3X out of the T3 amp, and a bit more than I get from my iPod video or 5G Nano headphone out. The ES3X are so much more efficient than the JH 13Pro that I can get the T3 volume knob down into areas of channel imbalance when listening with the ES3X, but those low volume levels are still quiet enough for me to go to bed wearing the the ES3X before I fall asleep. i.e. T3 is quieter than the T4 when hovering at the point of channel imbalance.

When either T4 or T3 volume knob is turned down to zero a little very quiet music still leaks through with the ES3X, which is louder at zero in the T4 than the T3. I hadn't noticed this when I was using JH 13Pro or my RS-1. But, there is ZERO hiss with the T3 and ES3X when I hit pause or stop the music (same as with T4 and D4). I'll take a little music leakage at zero volume any day over hiss.

With my iMod and HD600, the T3 also sounds a little crisper and better defined than the T4. And, in low gain the T3 can reach very nice volume levels with the HD600 - in fact the T3 in the second from lowest gain position can play the HD600 louder than the T4 or Nuforce Icon Mobile at any gain setting. Once I max the T3/HD600 volume in the 3rd gain setting with HD600, only then do I get clipping at volume levels higher than I would normally listen.

The D4 with 9v power does have noticeably better bass impact and louder volumes with HD600 than either the T3 or T4, so if you want the best portable and powerful amp for HD600, you might want to consider the D4 in 9v mode (or 3MOVE, Pico and Vivid V1). But the T3 will do fine in a pinch with the HD600 and still give you a tiny package for portable IEM listening.

I also think the T3 is a little warmer sounding and more pleasant with my Grado RS-1 than the D4, and I might actually prefer the combo except that the D4 still seems to be more open and transparent sounding. I'm not really finding anything that doesn't sound decent with the T3, and I don't need to only reach for bright or dark phones to match them up nicely. The T3 is not overly bright, nor too forward/too recessed, nor bass-lite - it doesn't seem to do anything wrong, to the point that I may actually prefer the amp section over the iBasso D2 Boa. I'd say it's probably closer to the sound quality of the iBasso D3 or Meier Headsix which is a step up from the D2 Boa.

When all is said and done, if I was looking for a small and thin amp but couldn't spend more than $100 some odd dollars, the T3 is a great choice.
post #2 of 154
Very nice review. Thank you!
post #3 of 154
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
There have been a few people asking about the iBasso T3, which I bought at the same time as my iBasso D4. I gave it 250 hours of un-monitored burn-in, but it sounded fine right out of the box. Most of the time it is used with my 5G Nano or my 5.5G iMod, via Piccolino wire LOD that stevenkelby made for me.

The T3 amp is resolving enough that I can hear the difference when I switch from the Piccolino LODto my cheaper Punnisher LOD. In the end I think the T3 is better than my old T4, but the iBasso D4 is still better than the T3. I don't think the T3 is as transparent and open sounding as the D4, but it is definitely performing well above my expectations for such a tiny amp.

The T4 amp has several hundred hours on it, and is a little darker and mellow. I have reported before that I found the T4 to be good with bright IEM when trying to pair them with a brighter sounding Nano or Touch, but not really offering sound quality that much better than an iPod. As a matter of fact, my iPhone 3G and 3GS headphone out sounds more detailed and balanced than the T4. Yet the T4 is not a bad amp at all, it's just not as good as the iPhone 3G/3GS which I think is the best sounding iPod ever made. The T4 bass boost was good for some bass-lite phones, but it's a pretty warm amp with strong bass even without the boost turned on (very mild bump, maybe 3-4 dB to my ears).

So, the T3 adds a bit more clarity and detail over the T4. The frequency response seems more balanced with the T3 vs the T4 because of this, yet it's still a warm and punchy enough amp that I don't miss trading the bass boost in trade for the 4 gain settings (instead of 2). It has more power than my iPods, and it offers improvements via LOD that make it worth using with full size cans vs using the headphone out. And, the sound is good enough that it is still an upgrade over the iPod headphone out for many IEM.

If you don't need the DAC, and you will be using it totally with an iPod portable where size is important, then the T3 makes more sense than the D2+ or D4. Right now I am listening to my 5G Nano > piccolino LOD > T3 > UE 11Pro and it sounds better than the Nano headphone out. I normally don't like the UE 11Pro via the Nano or iPhone 3GS headphone out, and the T3 sounds better with them. The T4 seems a little darker than I like with the UE 11Pro.

Somehow, the T3 is still a great match with my ES3X and JH 13Pro too. And despite it's controlling the bass on the UE 11Pro better than my Nano or iPhone do, the T3 is NEVER bass-lite with my other IEM. There is very strong bass with my ES3X out of the T3 amp, and a bit more than I get from my iPod video or 5G Nano headphone out. The ES3X are so much more efficient than the JH 13Pro that I can get the T3 volume knob down into areas of channel imbalance when listening with the ES3X, but those low volume levels are still quiet enough for me to go to bed wearing the the ES3X before I fall asleep. i.e. T3 is quieter than the T4 when hovering at the point of channel imbalance.

When either T4 or T3 volume knob is turned down to zero a little very quiet music still leaks through with the ES3X, which is louder at zero in the T4 than the T3. I hadn't noticed this when I was using JH 13Pro or my RS-1. But, there is ZERO hiss with the T3 and ES3X when I hit pause or stop the music (same as with T4 and D4). I'll take a little music leakage at zero volume any day over hiss.

With my iMod and HD600, the T3 also sounds a little crisper and better defined than the T4. And, in low gain the T3 can reach very nice volume levels with the HD600 - in fact the T3 in the second from lowest gain position can play the HD600 louder than the T4 or Nuforce Icon Mobile at any gain setting. Once I max the T3/HD600 volume in the 3rd gain setting with HD600, only then do I get clipping at volume levels higher than I would normally listen.

The D4 with 9v power does have noticeably better bass impact and louder volumes with HD600 than either the T3 or T4, so if you want the best portable and powerful amp for HD600, you might want to consider the D4 in 9v mode (or 3MOVE, Pico and Vivid V1). But the T3 will do fine in a pinch with the HD600 and still give you a tiny package for portable IEM listening.

I also think the T3 is a little warmer sounding and more pleasant with my Grado RS-1 than the D4, and I might actually prefer the combo except that the D4 still seems to be more open and transparent sounding. I'm not really finding anything that doesn't sound decent with the T3, and I don't need to only reach for bright or dark phones to match them up nicely. The T3 is not overly bright, nor too forward/too recessed, nor bass-lite - it doesn't seem to do anything wrong, to the point that I may actually prefer the amp section over the iBasso D2 Boa. I'd say it's probably closer to the sound quality of the iBasso D3 or Meier Headsix which is a step up from the D2 Boa.

When all is said and done, if I was looking for a small and thin amp but couldn't spend more than $100 some odd dollars, the T3 is a great choice.
how would you compare the D4 to the pico,just the amp.
post #4 of 154
Would you say that the Pico amp section is better than the T3 for IEM's ?
post #5 of 154
I am also interested in comparison to Pico.
post #6 of 154
Thread Starter 
I would put the Pico and D4 on a higher level than the T3, into what I call my top tier portable amps. Top tier is those amps that seem to have a fuller more complete sound and presentation or refinement, with few compromises heard. Just based on the sound of the amps that I have heard, I include the Pico, Predator, P-51, D4 and D10, Micro Amp, 3MOVE, and XM5 in my top tier amps. (D2 Viper with LM6172 would move from 2nd tier to top tier, but it's discontinued)

I put the iBasso T3, T4, D1, D2, D3, P2, Headsix, Headstage, Vivid V1, Nuforce Icon Mobile in the 2nd tier amp group, which are nice amps but they tend to compromise in one or more areas of sound. The compromise might be in detail and transparency, neutrality, bass presentation (sloppy or weak or boosted), too forward or too recessed in the mids or soundstage, colorations or treble roll-off, etc.

So, within those tiers some are better than others. For most of my ranking you could see my big USB DAC/amp review. Where I put the T3 as an amp in the 2nd tier is with the D3, Headsix, Headstage Lyrix Pro or opamp rolled D1; and a little above the stock D1, stock D2 Viper, D2 Boa, T4, Nuforce or V1. The T3 drops to 2nd tier based on it's detail and transparency vs the top tier amps like Pico, etc, but not based on colorations or frequency response issues.
post #7 of 154
Thread Starter 
Whoa!

The iMod > piccolino LOD > HD800 with Warren Audio cable actually sounds nice! It's pretty close to the top of the 2nd tier for sure.
post #8 of 154
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
The T3 drops to 2nd tier based on it's detail and transparency vs the top tier amps like Pico, etc, but not based on colorations or frequency response issues.
That sentence says a lot. It seems it is certainly worth the price tag, as paulybatz has been saying.
post #9 of 154
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
... and a little above the stock D1, stock S2 Viper ...
I bet you meant D2 Viper.
post #10 of 154
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kostalex View Post
I bet you meant D2 Viper.
Yeah, the S on the keyboard is next to the D that I was trying to use.
post #11 of 154
Thanks Larry - appreciated.
post #12 of 154
Yes, thank you, Larry.
post #13 of 154
Awesome: ) Thank you for the great write-up: )
post #14 of 154
Thanks larry, very nice write up, when can we all expect an extensive review of the D4 from you.
post #15 of 154
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kunalraiker View Post
Thanks larry, very nice write up, when can we all expect an extensive review of the D4 from you.
I just finished my HD800 review (will post it at head-fi after it's been on headphonesolutions.com for a few days), so I am ready to start working on my D4 review to add to the big DAC/amp review thread. I expect to get most of the work done this weekend on the D4 review, now that burn-in is complete and my back-log is mostly cleared up. But, I can't promise that something wont come up to delay me.

In the meantime, I posted some initial thoughts on the D4 - http://www.head-fi.org/forums/6147003-post934.html
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